Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 34

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Verse 1

1. The plains of Moab That level tract north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan. Here the tribes were encamped preparing for the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of the Promised Land.

Unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah Pisgah was a range of the mountain system east of the Dead Sea and Jordan; Nebo one of the summits of this range. Recent travelers have found the ruins of a place bearing the name Nebbeh.

And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan That is, the whole extent of the land east of the Jordan which Israel was to possess. Dan is not the place mentioned in Judges 18:29, but the Dan in the north of Perea, the place to which Abraham pursued the confederate kings. Genesis 14:14.

Verses 1-8

DEATH AND BURIAL OF MOSES, Deuteronomy 34:1-8.

Jehovah had said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die. Deuteronomy 31:14. Joshua was summoned to the tabernacle with Moses, and formally appointed his successor. The official life of the great leader and lawgiver closes. Another is to lead the people to their further victories; another is to cause them to possess the land. Moses completes the writing of the law and passes it to the Levites to be put within the ark of the covenant. Then the people assemble to hear the words of that matchless song of history, instruction, and warning, which forms so fitting a close to his ministry. On that same day Jehovah said to him, “Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto Mount Nebo,… and die in the mount.” Deuteronomy 32:49-50. He gives his farewell to the tribes, closing with the blessing, “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord!” Deuteronomy 33:29.

Moses leaves the camp, he ascends the mountain and looks over the goodly land which is to be the future home of his people. The writer of this supplementary chapter gives no details of the parting with the elders, with his successor, Joshua, nor with the people he had so long directed and so long loved. His farewell had been given in the blessing upon the tribes. Josephus, however, furnishes an account which does not seem improbable. “Amid the tears of the people, the women beating their breasts, and the children giving way to uncontrolled wailing, he withdrew. At a certain point in his ascent he made a sign to the weeping multitude to advance no further, taking with him only the elders, the high-priest, Eliezer, and the general, Joshua. At the top of the mountain he dismissed the elders, and then, as he was embracing Eliezer and Joshua, and still speaking to them, a cloud suddenly stood over him, and he vanished in a deep valley.”

Verse 2

2. And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah The region west of the Jordan. The northern part in the time of Christ was called Galilee, the central part Samaria, and the southern Judea.

Unto the utmost sea To the western sea, the Mediterranean.

Verse 3

3. And the south Negeb, the South Country, was the land south of Canaan proper, toward the desert.

And the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm-trees, unto Zoar The district from Jericho to Zoar. Robinson thought Zoar was located on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, at the foot of the mountains near its southern end, ( Biblical Researches, vol. ii, p. 649;) but in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, in the article “Zoar,” it is said, “It is highly probable that the Zoar of the Pentateuch was to the north of the Dead Sea, not far from its northern end, and in the general parallel of Jericho.” Tristram ( Land of Moab, American edition, p. 343) thinks he has found its site in the modern Zi’ara, not far from what he thinks is the site of Nebo. The view of Moses was northward through Gilead along the east of the Sea of Galilee to the southern slopes of Lebanon. Then his eye turns westward toward the Mediterranean, southward through the whole length of the land west of Jordan, and finally rests upon the view immediately before him “the circle of the plain of Jericho, the city of palm-trees, unto Zoar.”

Verse 4

4. This is the land which I sware unto Abraham At the oak of Moreh, centuries before this, Jehovah had manifested himself to Abraham and said to him, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Genesis 12:7.

I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes Tristram ( Land of Moab, American edition, p. 338) gives the following description of the view from the summit of Nebo: “Anxious to verify exactly the view of Moses, we paid three visits to Nebo; but we were not so fortunate as on my former visit, when for the first time Nebo was identified. On each occasion there was a haze from the heat which dimmed the distant features and outlines, producing a sort of mirage, which rendered it most difficult clearly to trace distant objects. Still, we had a clear distant view of western Palestine and the whole Judean range from far south of Hebron up to Galilee. We could see the west side of the Dead Sea from Engedi northward. Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nebi-Samwil, (Mizpeh.) Ebal and Gerizim were very easily made out, and the opening of the vale of Shechem. Carmel could be recognised, but we were never able to make out the sea to the north of it; and though it is certainly possible that it might be seen from this elevation I could not satisfy myself that I saw more than the haze over the plain of Esdraelon. The rest of the view was like that from Muslubeiyah, only that a corner of the Hauran Mountains could be caught in a depression of the Gilead range. Hermon certainly could be made out in a clear atmosphere over the Jordan valley, the whole of which lay open as far as Kurn Surtabeh. After testing repeatedly every view in the neighbourhood I am perfectly satisfied that there is none which equals in extent that from Nebo that is, from the flat ridge which rises slightly about half a mile behind the ruined city, and which I take to be ‘the true field of Zophim, the top of Pisgah.’”

But thou shalt not go over thither In Numbers xx it is related that when the people murmured for lack of water Jehovah directed Moses to take the rod with which the miracles in Egypt had been wrought, and with Aaron to call the people together to speak unto the rock before their eyes, and it would give forth water. The people assembled, Moses takes the rod as Jehovah commanded. He says to the people, “Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock?” He did not obey to the letter the command of Jehovah, and he “spake unadvisedly with his lips.” Psalms 106:33. It was in reference to this incident that Jehovah said to Moses and Aaron, “Because ye believed me not to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Numbers 20:12.

Verse 5

5. Moses the servant of the Lord “Observe,” says one of the early Christian writers, “the dignity of this title, ‘the servant of the Lord.’” That man who is able to overcome all things is the servant of the Lord. No one can be called the servant of the Lord who does not conquer the world. This is the moral of the history of Moses, that the end and aim of all our actions is to be called the servant of the Lord. This is the consummation of all earthly existence. “When thou hast overcome thy ghostly enemies, thine Egyptians, thine Amalekites, Edom and Midian; when thou hast crossed the sea and been illumined by the cloud; when thou hast drunk waters sweetened by the wood, and gushing forth from the rock; when thou hast eaten bread from heaven; when thou hast gone up into Horeb by faith and talked with God in the darkness; when thou hast listened to the sound of the trumpet, learned the mysteries of the tabernacle and the dignity of the priesthood, and when thou hast hewn tables out of thine own heart on which God has written his law, and when thou hast broken in pieces the golden idol and foiled the art of Balaam when thou hast been another Moses and drawest near thy end then may it be thy great reward, the crowning of thy whole life, to be called in God’s Book, ‘the servant of the Lord.’” GREGORY NYSSEN, ( De Vita Mosis,) quoted by Wordsworth in Commentary on Deuteronomy.

So Moses… died there in the land of Moab Not in the land which Jehovah had promised to the fathers for their children. He has led the people to its border; he has looked over the goodly heritage. Below him in the plain lie the tents of Israel. The armed forces are soon to march for triumphal conquest, but the great leader dies in the land of Moab.

According to the word of the Lord Literally, at the mouth of Jehovah. Some of the rabbins interpret it, By a kiss of Jehovah. The Jerusalem Targum soberly and correctly explains it, according to the sentence of the decree of Jehovah. Moses died here, in the land of Moab, on the threshold of the great victories that were to give his people possession of the Promised Land, not because his vital energies had failed, not because he was worn out and exhausted by the cares of these long years of wandering, but because he sinned against Jehovah “at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin.” Comp. Deuteronomy 32:51.

Verse 6

6. And he buried him We understand the subject of the sentence to be Jehovah. It is true that although the verb is in the singular the passage might be rendered as it is in the Septuagint, ( εθαψαν αυτον ,) they buried him. Jehovah gave his servant this signal honour. The statement that follows, “But no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day,” would hardly be consistent with the idea that the people buried him. For in that case his grave must have been known. He whom Jehovah had known face to face was buried by him, not to keep the Israelites from superstitious reverence for his grave. Abraham’s sepulchre was known. Jacob had been brought up from Egypt with imposing pageant and buried. Joseph’s bones were then in camp on their way to the sepulchre. We nowhere read in the Hebrew records of any thing like idolatrous worship paid at any of the tombs of the patriarchs. The view of Kurtz is worth considering. He says, ( History of the Old Covenant, vol. iii, p. 495:) “If Jehovah would not suffer the body of Moses to be buried by men, it is natural to seek for a reason in the fact that he did not intend to leave him to corruption, but at the very time of his burial communicated some virtue by his own hand which saved the body from corruption, and prepared for the patriarch a transition into the same state of existence into which Enoch and Elijah were admitted without either death or burial. On account of the one sin at the water of strife at Kadesh, Moses was sentenced by the ruthless severity of the justice of God to pass under the same ban of death as the whole generation of those who despised the covenant and promise.… In the sight of the people the leader and lawgiver of the nation was visited with a punishment which must have convinced them far more strongly of the unsparing character of the judicial severity of God than the most powerful admonition could possibly have done; but at the same time, though punished, he received honour in their sight, that they might see the sun of mercy bursting through the storm of the judgments of God. As an example of justice Jehovah caused him to die before the people entered the land of rest and promise; but as an example of grace he prepared for him an entrance into another, as yet unknown, land of promise and of rest.”

Verse 7

7. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died What an eventful life he has led since he lay “a weeping boy” in the ark by the river’s brink! Forty years pass, and he is in the prime of manhood, a prince taught in all the learning of the most cultured nation of remote antiquity. Then forty years he spends in the quiet pastoral life of Midian, and forty years in the varied experience of the wilderness wandering. Since he led the people out of Egypt a whole generation has passed away. Of those who crossed the Red Sea how many have left their bones in the desert! How few of those who heard the song of triumph, “I will sing unto Jehovah, for he hath triumphed gloriously,” (Exodus 15:0,) listened to the “blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death!”

Verse 8

8. The children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days So “they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” Numbers 20:29.

Verses 9-12


Joshua (in the Greek, ‘ Ιησους , Jesus) now takes the place of Moses. His name first appears in Exodus 17:9, as leader of the forces of Israel against Amalek at Rephidim. When Moses ascended Sinai the first time to receive the two tables of the law Joshua accompanied him part of the way, and was the first to meet him when he came down from the mountain.

Comp. Exodus 24:13; Exodus 33:11; and Exodus 32:17. He was one of the twelve sent to explore the Promised Land, and one of the two who brought back a favourable report. After it had been announced to Moses that he was not to lead the people into their promised possession, but was to die on the borders of the land, he prayed to Jehovah to promote a successor. He was directed to invest Joshua with authority. Numbers 27:18. In Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Moses gives him a brief and impressive charge. The great leader and lawgiver had in Joshua a worthy successor.

Verse 10

10. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses When the writer of this supplementary chapter wrote, no such prophet had arisen, no one like unto Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face; no one who wrought such mighty miracles. Prophet after prophet did appear in the nation’s history in great emergencies, and through them Jehovah spake to the people; and in the fulness of time Jesus of Nazareth came, who, like Moses, was “mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.”

Luke 24:19. Yet not like Moses, faithful in the house of God as a servant, but as a son, (Hebrews 3:5-6,) and in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and all the fulness of the Godhead, (Colossians 2:3-4;) who is “worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” Revelation 5:12.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 34". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.